If You Don't Like The Message, Don't Kill The Messenger
Writer Author Elizabeth Parker
- Fiction No
Justin Martyr, beheaded for the faith in A.D. 165 said, "The more we are persecuted, the more do others in ever increasing numbers embrace the faith and become worshippers of God through the name of Jesus" (Dialogue with Trypho 110). Contrast the impact of modern-day martyrs for other causes. Who remembers what Che Guevara stood for? Luke's account of Stephen's death helps us understand the effect dying for the gospel has, and in so doing challenges us to accept its truth claims.
Stephen's stoning climaxes his witness and introduces an important turning point in the witness of the Hellenistic Jewish Christians of Jerusalem. The intensity and scope of persecution and the extent of witness both take quantum leaps.
Stephen's indictment (7:51-53) so penetrates "uncircumcised hearts" that the Sanhedrin is furious (literally "sawn through in their hearts"). They are "torn up" not with repentant sorrow for their sins but with seething anger against the preacher of repentance. They grind their teeth with such a hissing sound, such a hateful screwing of the mouth that Stephen knows they have but one aim: to do away with him. As we have seen before, when faced with the truth those in error will either accept the message or seek to silence the messenger, even permanently (Acts 4:18; 5:28, 40).Stephen's Execution (7:55-58)
One man full of the Holy Ghost faces a gallery of men full of hate.
Stephen had flung some serious charges at the Jewish rulers present. He had supported those charges by long Jewish history and Scripture, but 'prejudice will never listen' to the best documented argument. Like a herd of stampeding animals, yet intent on one purpose, they rush together against Stephen, drag him out of the city and begin to stone him. The place for stoning was a ramp higher than a man and the first witness against Stephen threw him from the ramp in such a way that he fell on his back. Then a large stone was thrown with great force on his heart. The blow did not kill him, so, according to the Law (Deut. 17:7) it was the people's turn. But before doing so the men took off their white mantles and laid them at the feet of Saul, who was present in an official capacity to support the proceedings. (Augustine said, "The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen". In fact, Saul is the one adversary named in the incident. Luke is laying the groundwork for the great victory God will win through Saul's conversion and subsequent missionary service.) The stones rained upon Stephen who, at a point, raised himself to his knees and prayed for their forgiveness, and, as the horrible work reached its climax, he just said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." The deed was done. The mangled body lay motionless.
But he (Stephen) being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus STANDING on the right hand of God, and said, behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.
Did you catch what that says? ... Jesus was not sitting at the right hand of the Father; He had gotten so excited He stood to His feet! Some may say that Jesus gave Stephen a standing ovation. Some may say that Jesus stood to His feet to welcome Stephen home but, being an old Pentecostal woman, I like to think that He had what we Holy Roller Pentecostals call a Holy Ghost runaway! I can close my eyes and see Him jumping to His feet and dancing in the Spirit shouting amen and amen at the message this preacher was preaching!
The apostles and early Christians had become complacent; comfortable in where they were therefore the gospel had been squashed, stilled. But after Stephen’s death, "all scattered abroad” and in doing so took the ‘gospel’ with them. Dispersion through persecution creates a band of missionaries, not refugees. All are scattered, seeds are sown, and go about evangelizing (Acts 8:4; Luke 8:5, 11). Judea and Samaria, the second two theaters for the Great Commission's fulfillment, have now been entered. Indeed, "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church." The gospel born by Spirit filled Christians is life. Death cannot stop it!
Could this be why God allowed this to happen to Stephen…..to shake them up and get them out of their comfort zone? The gospel was meant to be carried to every nation and every tongue… "Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” but they had become comfortable in their own little world.
Stephen stepped out of his comfort zone by facing the Sanhedrin with his charges against them and in so doing, did more for the gospel than any of the apostles before. Folks if you really want to do something for God, you got to step out of your comfort zone away from everything you find comfortable. Get out of the boat and start walkin’ on water! Face the giants! Climb that mountain! Just start moving! Even if all you can do is crawl….move!
In His love,
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